Reflection on Roger Ebert’s “How to Read a Movie”

In the article “How to Read a Movie,” Roger Ebert gives a brief discussion on the various rules of thumb used in movie and video production. Many of these he states are not absolutes to be followed in film production and review, but rather “tendencies” that nearly ever producer and culture adhere to in the thousands of clips he has viewed.

I appreciate the fact that Ebert gave us these “rules of thumb” in simplistic terms. I felt that myself and others lacking film knowledge could understand what was being discussed and some of the techniques utilized in film production. I found Ebert’s discussion on placement within the film screen to be very convincing. Generally, the right side is favored over the left side. I could think of many other films where this is so. Often, in movies with superheroes and villains, the “good guy” will be placed on the right side of the screen, where the “bad guy” will be placed on the left side of the screen. For example:

The Avengers (2012): Loki (the villain) is on the left-hand side of the screen, where the Hulk (the good guy) is on the right-hand side of the screen.

I also thought that Ebert’s description of screen tilt’s and the emotional response within the audience was highly convincing. As Ebert states, “[t]ilt shots of course put everything on a diagonal, implying the world is out of balance.” As a movie-viewer, I can say that points where the screen is off-balance and tilted, are emotionally uncomfortable and jarring. Mentally, I need everything to be set straight and in the correct place. For example:

Transformers: In this shot, the screen is tilted to the right. Ebert states that tilting to the right suggests the characters are “sliding perilously into their futures.” This could not be more true for the this movie as Sam (the main character) has a conversation with Optimus Prime about the “impending doom and battle” to come later on in the movie.

Overall, I found Ebert’s article to very informative and interesting. When viewing movies and film, I had never realized that I was unconsciously being affected by the techniques and choices of the producers. I will take many of the tips provided by Ebert to heart as we enter into this week of Video Storytelling.


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